The best internet filter software is designed to keep you and your family safe while you're browsing online. They can block access to websites that contain inappropriate content for your kids, they can restrict access to certain kinds of site, and can provide you with reports on internet use across multiple devices. It's a great way to not only prevent your family from accessing sites they shouldn't be looking at, but also to make sure they're not spending too much time on sites that can be harmful to their mental health and self-image, like Facebook and Twitter.
While it may seem a little controlling, using one of the best internet filter software packages can actually be of great benefit - especially when it comes to your children's social and mental development. Excessive and unrestricted use of social media sites is scientifically linked to compromised well-being, which means you need to be aware of how much time your kids are spending on them, and what they're looking at. Internet filter software can message you when certain 'watch-words' are used on their cellphone, so you can keep them away from individuals grooming them with harmful content like 5G conspiracies and anti-vaccine misinformation.
Qustodio works on both computers and smartphones, and it has 29 filter categories and useful time controls. The detailed parent reports include screenshots of the websites your child visits, as well chat and text messages they’ve sent and received.VIEW DEAL ON Qustodio
What should you look for in the best Internet filter software? Ease of use and discretion is absolutely essential. You don't want website blockers that become ineffective because they were too complicated to set-up, and you need to be confident that you've blocked all the inappropriate content that your family might access, or that they're looking at websites that might be harmful to them. Top-rated Internet filter apps can track use across PCs, laptops, phones, and tablets and will keep up to date with all kinds of fresh toxic content, like anti-mask propaganda and COVID-deniers.
Most can be installed on devices easily, and will not slow down any of the apps or browsers on them. This means that your family will not even notice them running, and they will not interfere with the safe, everyday use of these devices, which is critical. They will all give you detailed, easy-to-understand reports on a regular basis, so you can keep an eye on what your family is accessing, how long they're looking at it, and what harmful content is being served to them. You'll also be able to exclude the nasty stuff completely, which should give you a real piece of mind.
If you want to make sure your own browsing is safe, we recommend looking at the best antivirus software for your computer. And for something more specialized, there's also the best cell phone parental control software, to keep kids safe while they're using phones.
1. Qustodio: Best Internet filter software overall
Qustodio is our top pick for internet filters in part because it is easy to install on both computers and smartphones. It’s also simple to use.
You can access each child’s profile from your phone and adjust their access and time allowances; you don’t have to be at a computer or on the device itself to adjust the settings. Qustodio has 29 filter categories to quickly and easily block websites and content children don’t need to see.
The time management controls let you control timeframes for internet access (so your child can’t get online when they are supposed to be asleep or at school), and they also let you control how long kids can stay logged on during allowed times. For example, if your kids are allowed online between 6pm and 9pm on school nights, you can set Qustodio to kick them off after an hour or two, controlling overall screen time.
Qustodio records a lot of details about what your children do online and provides a detailed report. While other programs simply tell you when your child has accessed their email account or chatted with someone through an instant messenger program, Qustodio captures the whole conversation. You can also tag words and phrases, such as "come alone" or “don’t tell your mom,” so if someone sends a message with these phrases, you will know.
2. Net Nanny: Best value internet filter
Net Nanny is one of the cheapest internet filter programs we tested, but still includes the most important protection tools to block dangerous content online.
There are 18 filter categories to help you quickly restrict access to websites about pornography, drugs and alcohol, suicide and gore. The program sends an email alert if your child enables a proxy or privacy server to hide their internet searches.
One of the most unique features of Net Nanny is the profanity blocker that masks swear words on websites so your child can’t see or read them. It also prevents children from typing these words into search fields and chat messages. You can set it to change the funny words or symbols as they’re typed, or the program can completely erase the word. Net Nanny sends a notice through the parent reports when profanity was typed or blocked from being seen.
Net Nanny includes time controls to block kids from the internet when they should be asleep, at school, doing homework or chores. Because you can set up an account for each child, older children can be given longer time limits for school projects, online games or streaming videos. The biggest drawback of Net Nanny is that some important tools, such as social media monitoring, chat message capturing and text notifications for parents, require you to purchase a separate program that works alongside the Net Nanny internet filter program.
3. Surfie: Best for cell phones
Surfie is compatible with both Android and iOS cellphones and tablets, plus it has a Windows computer version. All versions let you filter and block web content you don’t want your children exposed to.
It comes with 18 filter categories that make it easy to block related websites under each category, including pornography, violence and online gaming. But you can also whitelist sites that you are okay with your child visiting, even if they fall under a filter category, or blacklist specific pages that don’t fall under a watched group. On top of web filters, Surfie lets you control when your child has internet access and how long they can be online, even on cellphones.
One of the best features of Surfie is its keyword monitor that alerts you if someone sends your child a test, email or instant message with words or phrases that tend to be red flags. These include several programmed phrases such as “don’t tell,” “are you home alone?” and “give me your phone number.” But you can also add your own keywords, and Surfie will shut down the program your child is using and internet access when one of them is used. It also works in reverse to monitor what your child sends, prohibiting them from using your tagged keyword and from sharing personal information online. All email, instant messages and text transcripts are recorded for you to read.
4. ContentBarrier: Best for Mac users
For Mac computers we highly recommend ContentBarrier by Intego. This internet filtering software is specifically designed for Mac computers and includes preset filter categories that make it easier to block harmful content.
You can add specific websites you want to block to the blacklist, or you can add a site blocked by the preset filters to the ContentBarrier whitelist if you feel it’s OK for your child to visit. ContentBarrier X9 also has time controls so you can ensure your kids are focused on homework, chores or bedtime instead of playing online. You can create separate accounts for each of your children with one program and set different filters for each depending on their age and maturity. The program does a good job blocking content, but it doesn’t record a lot of your child’s online activity for you to see later. It also is only compatible with Mac desktops and won’t work on iPhones, iPads or other Apple mobile devices.
Why trust us on website blockers?
We are parents and know the importance of protecting children from online misinformation, dangerous content, cyberbullies, and too much screen time. Over the last 15 years we have tested and reviewed parental control software that offer great tools that lets parents to know what their kids are up to online.
As part of our research, we subscribe to news outlets and security bloggers that focus on internet security, online privacy and parental control, so we stay on top of the dangers lurking online and changes in the industry. We are interested in how well the tools of these programs help parents keep children safe online, and we enjoy the opportunity to thoroughly test these programs so we can give you good – and safe – internet filter options.
What to look for in internet filter software
Website blocking and filtering
When we tested internet filter software, we looked at exactly what each program blocked. This included the number of filter categories, if websites slipped through the cracks and if the program included a blacklist where we could add specific site URLs to block. Other programs have tools, such as screenshots and social media blocking, that can be used for similar purposes, but these require you to be more proactive for it to be effective.
Activity recording and parent notification
It seemed to us that anything a program recorded would also be reported to the parents, but we found this isn’t necessarily the case. Some programs only report the date and URL of a site a child visited by our children but don’t record more information than that. The best programs, including Qustodio, record and report in-depth information about how long your children are on specific websites, both sides of chat messages and words they search for in search engines. You can also see if your kids attempted to go to a blocked site and which activated filter category restricted their access to it. Some programs take screenshots while your child is online so you physically see what they saw during their computer time.
Notification is just as important as reading activity reports. We appreciated when a program, such as McAfee, sent us a text message as soon as our children attempted to access a restricted site. Other programs, such as Surfie, sent us email notices when our kids typed tagged words, such as “alcohol” or “home alone,” into search engines or in chat messages. Being notified quickly is important for stepping in and stopping your children from getting into a dangerous situation.